Since he was ten years old, Justin Weatherly always felt different from everyone else. He couldn’t explain his urges to anyone, convinced he would be ostracised from his school friends, his family, and society in general. Forced to hide his shame away in his bedroom closet, or isolated in the tool shed at the bottom of his garden, he clandestinely hid his affliction from prying eyes and ears, indulging his secret fetish until it ran its course. Afterwards, Justin would feel completely exhausted, almost embarrassed at the recollection of his actions. However, it was something he had to do, something he could not repress, unless it involuntarily exploded into an act of public shame.
A lifetime of concealment had taken its toll on his social well-being. The few friends he managed to keep into his early twenties, all seemed to have their own little quirks and shortcomings. Justin convinced himself that his oddities were unrelated to their medically diagnosed Tourette Syndrome, a common neurodevelopmental disorder that begins in childhood or adolescence. Characterised by multiple movement tics and at least one vocal tic, the condition can be identified through a person’s demonstration of unusual blinking, coughing, throat clearing, sniffing, or facial movements.
It was because of his repetitive vocal outbursts, that Justin found himself in the special class throughout his high school years. A misunderstood diagnosis by his teachers, labelled him disruptive. Not knowing what to do with him, they felt he needed to be separated from the main curriculum, so enrolled him into what was quietly called, the Dissident Class. The several other students that he joined there, had similar distracting noise habits, but to Justin, they were quite obviously, different behaviours. There was Freddie the Farter, who had an endless supply of gastrointestinal excretions to share with anyone within earshot, Suzy the Shaker, who would constantly twitch her neck until it made a cracking sound, Peter the Parrot incessantly repeating everything spoken to him over-and-over again, and Tommy the Toucher, who couldn’t resist patting people on their posterior whenever he found himself in close physical proximity to them. Their real names are omitted here strictly to protect their identities. The nom-de-plume labels are borrowed from the nicknames given to them by their unforgiving classmates.
Corralled together in an out of the way classroom, the repetitive sounds emanating into the hallway were often compared to an out of tune orchestra warming up before the beginning overture to an opera. Tourette sufferers are discouraged from excessively suppressing a tic, for the greater the effort to stop themselves from enacting their tic, creates an opposite and sometimes volatile reaction, strengthening the tic to out itself ten-fold. As teenagers, the group of wayward musicians were constantly being told to quieten down, and as the self-appointed leader of the isolated troupe of cavaliers, Justin would just retort with the word, “Never,” before slowly accentuating it, then picking up its cadence until that was the only word he continually and disturbingly repeated till exhaustion collapsed him to his knees.
By all appearances, Justin looked and behaved like a normal person. But it was when he was out of earshot, that his resolve could no longer successfully contain his nascent compulsion. At times, it would last a mere few minutes, but other times during normal conversations, he would have to stifle his responses to people’s questions, when the misunderstood affliction would send him rushing from a room to find a private place to torment him for hours.
The most recent embarrassing occurrence took place at a dinner his parents gave for his father’s boss, Reginald ‘Reggie’ Humphries, and his infuriatingly inebriated wife, who had nothing to add to conversations other than the occasional hiccup. During dinner seatings, it was customary for Justin’s father to play some background music to accentuate the ambience of the evening and more importantly, to demonstrate a certain level of class and savoir-faire. Ignorantly unaware that Justin’s triggers were extremely sensitive to certain instrument sounds, his father brought to the attention of his boss, a certain musical passage of trumpeting beauty as it approached its musical crescendo. Reggie, a scholar of total snobbery, sensed an air of detachment from his employee’s son. Slighted by the rude habit the young man displayed by staring unblinkingly at his wife, coupled with the inability to look him directly into his eyes while being addressed, Reggie felt a bullying emotion come to the fore of his personality and decided to test Justin’s intellect by asking his opinion of the musical piece.
“Never,” was the staccato response from the troubled young man.
“I don’t understand,” Reggie confusingly declared.
“Never, never, never, never,” Justin repeated while clasping a hand over his mouth, then, abruptly and without excuse, he left the dinner, rushing upstairs to the safety of his bedroom. After an uncomfortable delay of silence, Justin’s mother formally excused herself from the table and hurried upstairs to check on her son. Without knocking, she entered the room to find Justin sat at his desk - with his back to her, head bowed, and right leg fidgeting erratically, as he groaned a mumbling, incoherent sound while downstairs, his father turned up the music volume to mask the disturbance emanating from directly above his dinner guest’s heads.
Upstairs in his bedroom, Justin’s embarrassment was so overwhelming, it forced an outpour of spontaneous emotion, causing such a level of alarm in his mother, that the very next day, she made an appointment for him to visit a psychologist.
“When did you first become aware of your condition?” The psychologist, Mr. Delmonde Tomas, asked in a reassuring tone.
“Just after my eleventh birthday,” Justin quietly replied.
“…So, around the beginning of puberty,” Tomas noted both vocally and in pen to his notepad. “…And if you could sum up your behaviours in numbers, how many times a day do you do this?”
“It depends on many things,” Justin tried to explain. “A song, a topic, a photo, a video, or just something I’ve read can kick it off.”
Variable triggers, he added to his notes.
“Interesting,” Tomas continued. “Are you able to stop yourself at any point during these… moments?”
“I have to finish,” Justin adamantly made clear. “It’s always too strong for me to fight it… I must always let it finish.”
It was at that exact moment, that Justin felt another urge begin to envelop his nervous state of mind, fighting against his inhibition to not let the behaviour be observed by anyone. What followed, intrigued the experienced psychologist beyond normal interest. Never to this extent, had he seen anyone in person, fill up every moment of silence with such an outburst. It was breathless, breathtaking, and quite frankly, a burst of fresh air to his sometimes-mundane practice of analysing the cognitive behaviours of clients, while offering standard therapeutic interventions to treat those struggling with their mental health. This was exciting, exhilarating, and explicating. Not enough adjectives on how he felt could be hastily jotted onto one piece of paper. Finally, when an exhausted Justin fell back onto the couch, Tomas took a few beats to absorb the meaning behind the lengthy legato of vocal phrases, before scribbling enthusiastically into his notepad.
“Extraordinary,” Tomas exclaimed.
“I’ve only read about this in medical manuals. Reported incidents… my apologies… I mean to say, reported conditions like yours, were a common occurrence in the late nineteenth century. However, it’s much less common in the twenty-first century. Perhaps it is a result of cultural reasons, or possibly, it just died out due to a type of herd immunity… Before I can be confident of my prognosis, I need to conduct some tests with you – to further support my theory, and to correctly prescribe a treatment. Would you be willing to submit to this?”
His eyes brightened by the suggestion of a cure; Justin vigorously nodded his head in agreement.
“Splendid,” Tomas joyfully responded. “There’s no time like the present.”
Motioning for Justin to relax himself on the couch, Tomas flipped the page on his notepad to reveal a fresh blank page ready for notetaking.
“I would like to begin with presenting a word to you – just one word at a time. Then, I need you to say the first word that comes into your head. Whatever the word, just say it. Don’t think, just let it out. There are no right or wrong words or answers. I am merely attempting to correlate your repressed thoughts with your external haemorrhages of uncontrollable outbursts. I will repeat your response either in question form or statement form. You, will then respond to the repeated word and so on… Okay, are you comfortable?”
Taking a small swallow from a glass of water cordially supplied by Tomas, Justin nodded in agreement and understanding, before clasping his hands tightly together on his lap.
“Please,” a reassuring Tomas added. “I won’t bite, and I won’t judge, okay…? Good. Then let’s begin with the first word… Ship…”
“Buttercup…? Sorry, that’s your cue…”
“Maiden…” Tomas encouragingly motioned with his hand for Justin to continue the exercise.
Feeling an outburst building, Justin started to fidget uncomfortably in his seated position. Intuitively sensing the irritability of his client, Tomas decided to alter course.
“It’s okay, Justin. Let it out if it wants to come out… Let’s try some different words, yes?”
Inexplicably, Tomas’s calming manner and understanding nature seemed to sooth the impending eruption of protest. It was like Justin’s tic understood the intentions of the therapist and wanted to allow him to communicate with the unseen disrupter.
“Interesting,” Tomas recited as he scribbled some notes onto his pad. “I believe we are headed in the right direction, so let’s try again, okay? Here is the next word… Japan…”
“…Gentlemen,” Justin’s newly calmed manner responded.
“…Gentleman…” Tomas intentionally singularised Justin’s response.
“Calm yourself, Justin. We’re nearly there.”
“Just a few more, okay…?”
Taking a moment to relax, Tomas took a deep breath, reassuring Justin to do likewise, before proceeding.
“Duchess…” Tomas breathed the word out inviting Justin to respond.
“…Duke,” Justin replied.
“Never, never, never-never, never-never,” Justin uncontrollably blurted out. “Never-never never-never never-never never-never never-never never-never cross the sea again!”
The outburst completed, Justin sat with head defeatedly bowed, his breath laboured, and his manner dejected.
“I am so tired of this. I’ll never be that celebrated-cultivated-underrated person I want to be.”
“That’s it!” Cried Tomas. “That’s the very thing…! I knew it, I knew it. Oh, capital, capital! In thirty-seven years of practicing psychotherapy, I never cease to be amazed by the nuances of the human mind.”
“I don’t understand,” stated the despondent Justin.
Collecting his thoughts and regaining his therapist’s position of professional neutrality, Tomas enthusiastically explained his findings to Justin.
“I do believe that you have a rare condition related to Tourette Syndrome called, GANDS.”
“Gands? I’ve never heard of it,” Justin ignorantly relayed to his therapist.”
“That’s because nothing of it seems to have existed after the mid-twentieth century. That is, not enough cases were reported to deem it a serious condition.”
“Is it serious?” Justin adopted a concerned look to his face.
“Not at all, my boy. Managed in the correct way, Gands people can live a productive and creative existence. Controlled in the right environment, some have been known to live a celebrated life.”
“In travelling shows and such.”
“Like circus freaks? Never-never, never-never!”
“No no no no, Justin. On the contrary, young man… Hear me out, please… You are not alone in this. There are thousands like you worldwide that don’t even know they have Gands. Repeatedly reciting looped sentences without a modicum of self-control, oftentimes driving those around them mad with annoyance.”
“What the hell is Gands, anyway?” Demanded a frustrated Justin.
“More accurately coined, Gands is an acronym for G and S… What is called in the medical world as, Gilbert and Sullivan Syndrome… except, in your case it’s an offshoot, a latent branch called, Duke of Plaza-Tourette Syndrome, or D.P.T – if we continue to acronymise. Like Coprolalia is to Tourette’s, D.P.T is to Gands… without the heavy and crude profanity, of course. Tell me, what is your recollection of the exact moment you found yourself repeating words incessantly?”
Justin took a beat to filter through his memory, picking out what he deemed as the first triggering point.
“…I was ten years old… I remember that my father was involved in amateur dramatics at a local community theatre. He had been cast as one of the main players in the Operetta, The Gondoliers.”
“Of course!” Tomas interjected.
“The whole family went to see it, aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbours too. Even Reggie and his pickled wife came along to opening night… I recollect that the music was fun, but the set was flimsy. The costumes seemed thrown together from different musicals, and the staging was wooden. They were not the lowest points of the production that night… The performances were expectedly amateurish, some laughable, in fact. The snickers in the back row attested to that. What was disastrous to me, was that the entrance of my father’s first appearance was marred by him stepping out of a poorly constructed boat, missing the small bridge, then falling off the back of the stage. By this point, the earlier chuckles behind me, erupted into a theatre full of roaring laughter, as my dishevelled father reappeared from stage left to take up his position for his delayed entrance song. The supporting cast on-stage was so distracted by the events and subsequent laughter, that they not only sang out of tune, but also out of sync, causing a further uproar from the seats. By the time everything had calmed down, the show was lost and the rest of the first act was interrupted by hecklers berating everyone’s performance and appearance.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Embarrassed and ashamed. Not only was the audience filled with local people, but it also had a high number of my schoolmates there, and as children can be cruel to their peers, I bore the full weight of their mocking torment, ceaselessly continuing through the rest of the school year. The most painful and excessive taunt was from the duke’s – sorry, my dad’s opening song that included the lyrics,
…and if ever-ever-ever we get back to Spain,
we will never-never-never cross the sea again,
we will never-never, never-never, never-never, never-never, never-never, never-never
cross the sea again… Some creative pupils in the school band, rearranged the lyrics to say, he will never never never act on stage again. It was total ridicule and embarrassment for me.”
Tomas smiled a comforting expression of solidarity, conjoined with empathy, plus a hidden feeling of glee - due to his uncovering of the source of Justin’s condition.
“Yes, it makes sense now… Remember, you are not alone, Justin. In time, what we have unveiled today, will provide you with an understanding of your predicament.”
“So… there is a cure?”
“Unfortunately, not yet. However, being in the company of like-minded people will help you control your urges to a point of being able to command them to cease their torment – when desired.”
“You mean, I would be able to stop them before they come out”
“Precisely. Look, I have a friend that is a musical director. I sometimes like to sing chorus in his productions. I’m going to set up a meeting with him. I think it will be a prosperous get-together for you both. He… is in need of a cast for his upcoming operetta, and I think you would be perfect for him. The opportunity to stand on stage reciting repetitious choruses without fear of being ridiculed or questioned will lead to a more productive life for you. Just think of how many times you can repeat things to everyone’s delight from rehearsals through performances. It’s the ultimate therapy for you to safely say never again.”
Justin’s eyes lit up once more with the encouragement of hope for a normal existence. The two men simultaneously stood and shook hands, before Tomas added a small caveat to his morale-boosting speech.
“Now, you may need to continue our sessions.”
“Why is that?” Justin hesitantly asked.
“The company you will be joining performs several different stories in their repertoire of operettas. Should you find yourself with the urge to boast a newfound intellect to anyone listening or not. Or… should you find yourself singing in a fast tempo without taking a needed breath, you may also be suffering from another offshoot of Tourette’s called, MMG Syndrome.”
“MMG?” Queried Justin.
“It’s the short term for a Very Model of a Modern Major-General Syndrome… “
You may enquire as to the author of this piece’s license to discuss such medical conditions related to mental illness. That is without question, your right as a concerned humanitarian. I can only answer by saying, I too suffered the indignity in the form of Tourette Syndrome. You see, I was a classmate of Justin. He warmly approved of this elucidation of suffering, as my own branch of the condition afforded me many hours of solitary confinement away from the company of most outside those of my family. In that time, I discovered I had a penchant for writing that developed into an adept understanding of life and the people that live it.
To be a sufferer is to become an expert on loneliness, pain, and self-esteem. Writing is therapy and a form of self-medication, so I continue to practice my craft and sincerely wish you all the best in your readings. I ask not for forgiveness, and neither do I attempt to elicit sympathy or empathetic riposte from you. I simply ask that you take this piece for what it is. A journey of discovery.
Bartholomew Frederickson – aka, Freddie the Farter…